BY MICHAEL KELLY
NISKAYUNA — The sky was overcast and rain fell sporadically throughout the evening, but that combination did little to stop the cannonballs and happy splashing July 17 at the town pool.
That night, the water filled primarily with members of the Niskayuna Wild Turkeys Swim and Dive Team, area kids ages 5 to 18 who were participating in the town pool team’s annual swim-a-thon to benefit the Donna M. Crandall Foundation.
Those youngsters helped lead the charge in raising $3,205 this summer for the foundation, which provides financial help to cystic fibrosis patients and their families. The swim-a-thon is the finishing event for the Wild Turkeys’ drive to raise money for the foundation.
“This is one of the biggest events of our season,” said Aiden Wolfe, a 19-year-old coach for the Wild Turkeys who graduated from Niskayuna High School in 2014 and is now a student at Northeastern University.
“We start planning for this right at the beginning of June,” said Sarah Evans, a 17-year-old coach who just graduated from Niskayuna High School and will attend the Rochester Institute of Technology this fall.
Denise Murphy McGraw, parent coordinator for the Wild Turkeys, said the swim club has raised money for the Donna M. Crandall Foundation for 10 years. The connection between the two groups started because members of the team knew Crandall’s husband, David, from his time working in Niskayuna schools.
McGraw said raising money for the foundation through a swim team event made sense on another level, too.
“Cystic fibrosis is a disease of the lungs, and there’s nothing more important in swimming than breathing — you can be a very good swimmer, but if you’re not good at breath control, you’re not going to be a fast, championship swimmer,” she said. “So, there is a natural relationship there.”
The Wild Turkeys compete in a summer league with 15 other teams and the championships are approaching. While competition is taken seriously, McGraw said the chance to teach kids the value of giving back to their community is more important for the club.
“This teaches them that at a very young age — some of them are 5, 6,7 years old on this team — how to do that, and learning there’s something bigger than yourself,” she said.
The message seems to be getting through to the club members. Fresh off playing a game of sharks and minnows, 9-year-old Kelsey Gerstler explained why the annual swim-a-thon is one of the best nights of the summer each year.
“We’re helping people out, but still having fun,” said Gerstler, a student at Birchwood Elementary School.
The Wild Turkeys solicit donations, run raffles and conduct a silent auction as part of the swim-a-thon to raise the cash for the Donna M. Crandall Foundation. Swim-a-thon night also serves as one of the rare chances when the entire club — plus family and friends — gets the chance to gather together for a night of fun, free of practicing and competing.
“This is really our only day of the year where we have the whole team together like this, and that makes it a lot of fun,” Wolfe said. “This team has a great spirit to it.”